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Friday, October 13, 2000

Gordon helps Bear Flag party, sends sons to protect Gen. Vallejo

Nancy Dingler

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It was a late June evening when the 20 men rode into William Gordon’s ranch at Cache Creek. These men were on a mission. Under the auspices of John C. Fremont, they were going to take Gen. Mariano Vallejo into custody in their bid to wrest California territory away from Mexico.

“Bill” Gordon provided a quick meal and a place for the men to rest their horses before they crossed Berryessa and the Blue Ridge mountains into Pope Valley, where Major Barnard killed a bullock for them. The original 20 and their recruits swelled the number to around 35. They enjoyed a fine barbecue before leaving at midnight with their hunting dogs to meet others at Bale’s mill before going on to Vallejo’s rancho at Sonoma.

At dawn on that Sunday morning, our Flag Day, June 14, 1846, General Vallejo was awakened by a grubby-looking bunch of men in their hunting garb. Thus, as they say, their deed became the stuff of legends.

Gen. Vallejo’s outpost, which governed all the land to the Oregon line, was not very secure. Capturing Vallejo signified that they had captured the Mexican officer of longstanding, consistent authority, for all of the region north of San Francisco. If the Mexican governor Micheltorena had not become so alarmed by Fremont’s incursion and reacted by ordering all foreigners out of California, then having the Mexican troops confiscate 250 of Castro’s horses, the other “Californios,” might not have rallied to Fremont’s banner.

Bill Gordon provided not just a meal and possibly some fresh mounts to the famous Bear Flag party, but insisted that his sons join the men to make sure no harm came to the Vallejos. General Vallejo had been a most generous friend, while the ambitious Fremont was not to be fully trusted, especially with the safety of Vallejo or his family. John and Thomas Gordon joined the Party.

Benicia Vallejo, along with her husband, the general, were very apprehensive. They expected that the surrender committee would arrive in dress uniform of the U.S. Navy or Army. The general donned his uniform and presented his sword as the committee got down to the business of drawing up the surrender terms.

William Gordon was a young man when he left his home in Ohio, striking out for the Mexican territory of New Mexico. There, he converted his faith and swore his allegiance to the Mexican government. He did settle down in New Mexico where he married and began a family.

In the spring of 1840, he got the “fiddle foot” again, and moved his family to the tiny pueblo of Los Angles, via Arizona. While in Los Angeles, he was introduced to Mariano Vallejo. Vallejo took a liking to Bill and convinced him to come to Northern California. To sweeten the deal, Vallejo made Bill the Director of Colonization of the Northern District. With wives and young children in tow, Bill, along with several other families, crossed the Carquinez Straight by rowboats, allowing the horses to swim.

By 1841, the Indians were friendly, having been brought under control through the joint efforts of Gen. Vallejo, his brother Salvador and his ally, Chief Solano of the Suisuns. Upon reaching the northern banks of the Carquinez, the group engaged the local Indians as guides up the Napa River.

They camped at a site under some sycamore trees, where today is the home of George Yount, one of the members of the party from Los Angeles. Bill hung around Yount’s ranch, with his family, for another year trying his hand at farming and raising some cattle. Vallejo offered Bill a Mexican land grant. Pulling up stakes once more, he moved to a place later named Washington in Yolo county, near the Sacramento River. Bill became acquainted with John A. Sutter. Sutter hired Gordon to build a mill that was operated by horsepower. Bill Gordon had to cross the river by canoe each day from his home on the other side of the river. When the mill was completed, Sutter paid him with 42 head of cattle. It was at this Cache Creek location, that the Bear Flaggers came to eat and rest.

In 1862, Bill’s son, William (also called Bill) moved to Gordon Valley. Bill, the younger, farmed 1,200 acres of land that was part of his father’s Mexican grant that Vallejo had helped him to secure.  The son aided in the valley’s development, assisting to construct roads, organized the Gordon school district and served as trustee for many years. Unlike his father, he stayed put.